It was getting down to the wire.
I had a week left before moving out of my sister’s place in Montreal and joining my boyfriend in Boston, and we had exactly zero leads on an apartment.
It turns out that no one wants to take a couple, especially one that hasn’t lived together yet. I sent out what must have been a hundred applications on Craigslist, but that tactic was failing me; the closest we got to a bite was a guy who wouldn’t tell us his address, but volunteered to pick me up at the train station and drive me to the apartment to show it to me. Hard pass.
But then, with a week to spare, there was a sudden light on the horizon. Someone answered OUR ad, the hopeless last-ditch ad we put out in the “looking for housing” section. This someone, who I will call “Bobby,” said it sounded great that we were a couple, since he was often out of the apartment and wanted people who wouldn’t get lonely and could entertain themselves.
The apartment was great, a carved-out bottom floor of a three-story in the neighborhood I loved most, with just one other roommate who was frequently at her boyfriend’s house in Allston. There was a cat, and the cat was great. The rent was outrageously low. I packed my bags and we breathed a sigh of relief.
My roommate was true to his word, and at first we barely ever saw him. Our interactions were mostly limited to telling him to close the back door so the cat wouldn’t get out, and our biggest complaint was that he sometimes fell asleep with the TV blaring in his room. Typical roommate stuff.
We’d been in the room for about a month when Bobby’s girlfriend, who lived in New Hampshire, came to visit. I answered the door for her and almost blurted out “PREGNANT,” but stopped myself because a) that’s rude, and b) surely he would have told us if he and his girlfriend were expecting? Maybe she just carried a soccer ball everywhere under her sweater?
After pulling out some cookies and tea and talking for an hour, she brought up that she was 21 and he was 34. They didn’t seem worried about the age difference, so I didn’t worry about it. But it did strike a weird note in my head, which ended up framing the weird orchestra that was to come.
She brought up her due date, confirming that she was definitely preggo. Then she revealed that she’d been living in the apartment before we moved in, and he’d forced her to go live with her parents when she got pregnant because he “couldn’t handle taking care of her all the time.”
At the time, I tried to force that to make sense in my head. It seemed pretty cold-hearted, but her mom was at home all day, and her family probably was actually better equipped to deal with her needs. Bobby commuted into Framingham for work, so his days were long, and we’d seen ourselves that he was often out. It still made the hair on my neck stand on end just a little.
As a listening ear, I got caught in the middle of these two people. Bobby would trap me in the kitchen for hours-long gripe sessions, in which I learned that he had tried to convince his girlfriend to get an abortion, but she refused. He also careened around his past, dredging up old drug stories and rehashing confrontations with friends I’d never met or the entire plots of movies I’d already seen.
I’d often hover right in the doorway, my hand on the knob, waiting for him to stop talking so I could escape; I should have just cut him off, but we had to keep living together in some kind of harmony. What I really dreaded was when he caught me cooking, since working in public spaces meant I was a captive audience.
When the girlfriend came to visit, he’d leave her at home alone for long periods of time, during which she would complain to me that he was only committed to her because of the baby and daydream about her future as a stay-at-home mom.
Bobby would tell me later that he had no intention of “letting” her stay at home, that she was definitely going to get a job because he couldn’t support them on just his paycheck. I spent a lot of time shut into our room, trying to pretend I wasn’t there, or out in the world, trying not to be at home.
Then the baby came. Suddenly, the girlfriend and baby were in the apartment all the damn time. They would show up unannounced and stay for up to two weeks, sometimes more. If you’re doing the math at home, that means me + boyfriend + other roommate + Bobby + girlfriend + baby divided by one bathroom equals often going to work without showering or brushing my teeth. I started keeping my toothbrush in the kitchen, and one memorable morning I had to lean up against the back of the house to pee. (Our backyard was fenced, but still.)
Another wrinkle emerged as soon as the baby arrived; they fought like snakes, loudly, frequently, and at all hours. I’ve never heard a couple be as vicious as they were, at a volume usually reserved for hailing a cab. They were made for each other; she had some wacky ideas about child-raising inherited from a hyper-religious family, and he had zero tolerance for it to the point of foaming at the mouth.
A typical session would start like this:
GF: I don’t want to vaccinate.
RM: You’re fucking crazy.
GF: DON'T YOU FUCKING SWEAR AT ME IN FRONT OF THE BABY
RM: WHAT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND IS-
And they’d be off to the races, with my boyfriend and I involuntarily eavesdropping from our room.
We stuck with it for a whole year, basically waiting him out, when a chance encounter with our other roommate in the street led to a pivotal conversation. She was planning to move out, and Bobby was going up to NH to be closer to the baby. In 2 weeks. Surprise.
We had a fortnight to find two roommates, in the busiest month of the Boston moving year, but we scrambled and found people just in time. It was annoying, but we were also breathing a sigh of relief that this painfully dysfunctional couple was out of our lives.
Then, the second bloom of the shit flower that was our roommate hit us. One morning, I opened the mail to find an impending shutoff notice from the power company. Turns out that our roommate had been cashing our utility checks, then not paying the bills. I called them only to find that they couldn’t tell us how much he owed because the account was still in his name, and that was confidential information. But I could pay the bill for him--they just couldn’t tell me how much it was. I ended up playing a guessing game with the customer service agent and paying $300 mere hours before they were coming to kill our power.
There was definitely a pink mist in front of my eyes as I penned him an e-mail saying that surely through some oversight he had accidentally etc, etc. I heard nothing back. We kept getting the bill in his name, but luckily the amounts were on the bill so I didn’t have to blindly guess the cost. I would always leave it until the last minute to try and tank his credit score.
After he left, we got a series of increasingly urgent letters addressed to him from the bank. Oddly enough, he left no forwarding address. I gave up on ever seeing my $300 again and focused on the best revenge there is: living well.
Fast-forward a year. My old boyfriend and I have split up, and I’ve moved to an apartment not far from our old one. I’m walking home from the train station one sunny fall afternoon when I run smack into my old roommate with his one-year-old baby in a stroller.
I really want to tell you that I confronted him about the bills. I really want to say that I stood up for myself. But no, I cooed at the baby (who is legit cute), I let him tell me that I was looking much better than I used to, let him say that he never thought my old boyfriend was that good for me. We caught up for a few minutes, and I went on my way. Later, he tried to connect with me on LinkedIn.
I ignored it.